WCQ Weekend Preview: Spain visit plucky Finland; Colombia host Ecuador; and more

JordiAlbaSpain1-Finland (Getty)

By DAN KARELL

After nearly three months since the last World Cup qualifiers, much of the world returns to action beginning on Friday as the World Cup in Brazil next summer draws ever closer.

In UEFA, although many of the stronger nations are taking on the minnows, one of the matches on Friday is a rematch between Finland and Spain, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Teemu Puuki scored the game-tying goal on the road in the 79th minute and Finland held on.

Now, the two nations meet again, this time in Helsinki, with the Finnish squad hoping to take points off La Roja again. Puuki just earned a move to Celtic in Scotland and is in the squad, while Spain are missing Sergio Busquets and Juan Mata, as well as a few others. That being said, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and David Silva are all in the squad as they look to push Spain ahead in World Cup qualifying.

Meanwhile, in CONMEBOL, Colombia hosts Ecuador for a chance to go level on points with Argentina at the top of the nine-nation table.

Here is a closer look at the rest of this weekend’s World Cup qualifying action:

UEFA

Outside of the Spain-Finland tie, two other matches to keep a close eye on take place in Group A and Group B.

In Group A, bitter neighbors Serbia and Croatia face off in Belgrade, with the hosts desperately needing a win to keep their World Cup hopes alive. With seven games played already, Serbia has accrued only seven points, with four losses proving to be very costly, especially a 1-0 defeat to Macedonia.

If Serbia fail to qualify for Brazil, 2014, it will end a run of two consecutive World Cup Finals appearances.

In Group B, first-placed Italy face second-placed Bulgaria, with the winner of the match potentially changing the outlook on who qualifies and doesn’t.

A win for Italy would put them seven points above the Bulgarians with three games remaining, and would give the third-placed Czech Republic a chance to move back into second place and a potential place in the playoff round. However, a Bulgarian win on Friday would separate the two southern European nations by just one point, and put the top spot in the group up for grabs once more.

Luckily for Italy, they have a very strong squad at their disposal, including Mario Balotelli, Danielle De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, and Gianluigi Buffon.

Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in UEFA, sorted by group:

FRIDAY

Macedonia vs. Wales
Serbia vs. Croatia
Scotland vs. Belgium

Czech Republic vs. Armenia
Malta vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Bulgaria

Kazakhstan vs. Faroe Islands
Republic of Ireland vs. Sweden
Germany vs. Austria

Turkey vs. Andorra
Romania vs. Hungary
Estonia vs. Netherlands

Norway vs. Cyprus
Switzerland vs. Iceland
Slovenia vs. Albania

Russia vs. Luxembourg
Northern Ireland vs. Portugal

Latvia vs. Lithuania
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Slovakia
Liechtenstein vs. Greece

Ukraine vs. San Marino
Poland vs. Montenegro
England vs. Moldova

Georgia vs. France
Finland vs. Spain

SATURDAY

Israel vs. Azerbaijan

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CONMEBOL

The leader of the nine-team round robin stage, Argentina, has the first matchday off, which puts a number of other intriguing matchups into the spotlight.

Leading the four-game schedule on Friday is second-placed Colombia hosting third-placed Ecuador, with the winner putting themselves in a great position for second place overall in the group.

The last time the two teams faced each other in June, 2012, the late Christian Benitez scored the game-winner for Ecuador in Quito to defeat Colombia, but the Radamel Falcao lead Cafeteros are looking for revenge, and a chance to tie Argentina on points for the time being.

Also in action in Matchday 15, Luis Suarez plays his first official match since the Confederations Cup when Uruguay visits Peru, Chile hosts Venezuela, and last-placed Paraguay host Bolivia.

Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in CONMEBOL:

FRIDAY

Colombia vs. Ecuador
Paraguay vs. Bolivia
Chile vs. Venezuela
Peru vs. Uruguay

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CAF

The second round of African World Cup qualifying comes to an end between Friday through Tuesday, with only three of the ten four-team groups decided so far.

Algeria, Egypt, and the Ivory Coast have already qualified for the third round, but six of the final matches are of the win-or-go-home nature. In Group B, Tunisia hosts upstarts Cape Verde, while in Group D, Ghana face recent African Cup of Nations winner Zambia.

Group E has three nations, Congo, Burkina Faso, and Gabon all within reach of the third round, in Group F, Nigeria host Malawi for the top place in the group, in Group I, Cameroon host war-weary Libya, who have never qualified for the World Cup, and in Group J, Senegal hosts Uganda.

Samuel Eto’o has been called up by Cameroon for the Cameroon/Libya game, as well as his potential replacement, Barcelona forward Jean Marie Dongou.

Here is the full list of this weekend’s qualifiers in CAF, sorted by group:

FRIDAY

Ghana vs. Zambia

SATURDAY

South Africa vs. Botswana
Central African Republic vs. Ethiopia

Sierra Leone vs. Equatorial Guinea
Tunisia vs. Cape Verde

Gambia vs. Tanzania
Ivory Coast vs. Morocco

Burkina Faso vs. Gabon
Niger vs. Congo

Nigeria vs. Malawi

Angola vs. Liberia
Senegal vs. Uganda

SUNDAY

Sudan vs. Lesotho

Kenya vs. Namibia

Zimbabwe vs. Mozambique

Benin vs. Rwanda

Cameroon vs. Libya
Togo vs. Congo DR

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Which World Cup qualifying matchup are you looking forward to this weekend? Think Spain can take care of business on the road? How do you see Colombia playing vs. Ecuador?

Share your thoughts below.

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20 Responses to WCQ Weekend Preview: Spain visit plucky Finland; Colombia host Ecuador; and more

  1. John says:

    I’m looking forward to Ireland vs. Sweden if I can catch it. Really close group with 3 teams on 11 points.

  2. Beto says:

    Israel vs Kazakstan …

  3. curva sud says:

    Balotelli is actually banned for the Bulgaria game

  4. somedude says:

    Serbia-Croatia is going to be insane.

  5. Concacaf snob says:

    No word on concacaf region, really? sad day for soccer by ives site

    • Atletico Man says:

      You are kidding, right? He has done four posts in the last 24 hours on CONCACAF. That’s three more than Goal.com

      • Josh D says:

        Still, in a post titled World Cup Qualifiers, you’d still expect to see our region listed. Especially since, while there have been articles about our game, there is a still a huge game for Mexico to play and an interesting Panamanian side looking to make history.

  6. B16 says:

    Faroe Islands vs. Khazakstan

  7. biff says:

    Would love to see Austria shock Germany today in Allianz Stadium in Munich. Star Austrian forward and bad boy Marko Arnautović moved to Stoke last week from Bremen, so might be on the end of some of Geoff Cameron’s crosses in coming weeks.

    I get the sense the England, despite being coached by the great Roy Hodgson, is doomed, will not make WC 2014.

    • Increase says:

      Feels that there is quite a big risk of that isn’t there. They might come in second in their group which could be the real problem.

    • Josh D says:

      As someone hoping to see Ireland at the World Cup, I hope Germany spanks Austria the same way they did Ireland last year.

      • biff says:

        that I can understand. plus, it would be cool to hear the Irish fans singing in Brazil that song they sang last year in the euro cup.

  8. David says:

    Northern Ireland shocked Russia last month and drew in Portugal. So, they could spring yet another surprise in Belfast against Cristiano Ronaldo and company.

  9. Mecra says:

    Will Falcao be playing?

  10. Dave80 says:

    Do I read the standings/format correctly – if Zambia win this afternoon, Ghana fail to qualify?